What better subject for a light-hearted family musical than the Civil War? When brother is pit against brother and a nation’s future is at stake, hilarity is bound to ensue!
Actually, “Shenandoah,” playing through Aug. 14 at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre, is not so much about the Civil War as it is about a family’s desire to stay together and stand up for what’s right.
Charlie Anderson (Marvin Payne) is patriarch of a Virginia family that wants to stay out of the war. Charlie doesn’t own slaves (he has six sons to do all the farmwork, after all), but he can understand how those who do would be upset at the government coming along and taking them suddenly.
The Andersons are forced to act, though, when young Robert (Ben Abbott) is abducted by Yankee troops who think he’s a Rebel.
That doesn’t happen until almost intermission, though. Before that, we’re treated to a charming slice of 1860s American life. The ferociously feisty Jenny Anderson (Natalie Hill) wants to marry a Rebel soldier (Rex Kocherhans Jr.), though he’s a little hesitant. Her “Over the Hill” number is a highlight of the show, sung by Hill with energy and wit.
The five older Anderson brothers (Rob Abney, Jason Celaya, Scott Wetsel, Todd Beagley, Jared Pulham) sing “Next to Lovin’ I Like Fightin’,” a “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” type of song full of great choreography (designed by Michelle Marquis Gardner) and clever lyrics.
The second act is much darker, as the search for Robert breaks the family into two sections, and tragedy visits them both. In the end, “Shenandoah” is about war after all, and the terrible effects it can have on society.
Veteran Utah actor Marvin Payne is reliable as always as Charlie Anderson. He doesn’t just preside over the family; he presides over the whole show, with a commanding stage presence and powerful singing voice.
The show has many enjoyable songs, a few of which have already been mentioned. “Beautiful Pair,” sung by Jenny and her sister-in-law on Jenny’s wedding day, is a charming, unornamented number, and “Papa’s Gonna Make it All Right” has a similar simple beauty to it. The cast’s voices are good all the way around.
The show seems slow of pace now and then — not dragging, exactly, just a little slow. And it was unwise to cast a Polynesian-looking boy as a black slave and still expect him to speak in a “slave dialect” (“My massa says I gots to go home,” etc.). It’s almost embarrassing, which is unfortunate, since the boy in question (Jared M. Young) is a talented young singer and actor.
Overall, “Shenandoah” is a successful end to the SCERA summer season.
Charlie Anderson, the main character in this show, demonstrates true American patriotism: He doesn't care about the Civil War until his own immediate family is directly affected by it. Let's hear it for situational patriotism! (See also the 2000 Mel Gibson film "The Patriot.")